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News In Brief

Global climate change contributes to shrinking food supply

Jaclyn Giovis Mar 3, 2011

A United Nations food agency said today that global food prices reached record highs in February, and warned that rising oil prices could prompt further increases.

The Food and Agriculture Organization reported its food price index was up 2.2 percent last month, the highest since the agency started monitoring prices in 1990.

Shortages and price shocks have contributed to protests in the Middle East and elsewhere. And the situation has raised fears of a food price crisis reminiscent of those in 2007 and 2008.

There are many reasons for the shrinking supply of food, but climate change is a major factor. Agriculture economist Lester Brown at the Earth Policy Institute estimates each 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature could wipe out 10 percent of the world’s grain harvest in a season.

This interactive map by National Geographic shows the impacts of global warming on food production:

The World Bank has reported prices for many types of foods are at record high levels. Worldwide, the overall price of food rose 25 percent during the last half of 2010 alone. Here’s a snapshot of global warming hotspots, and the impact extreme weather patterns have had on food production:

Brazil & Argentina: Dry weather in 2010 drove the price of corn and soybeans up more than 50 percent.

Russia: Record high temperatures last summer, along with severe drought, forced the Russian government to ban grain exports in order to keep domestic prices from skyrocketing.

Australia: A year’s worth of rain in three months wiped out 30 percent of the country’s lentil crop last year and 10 percent of its wheat harvest. Washed out roads also left crops rotting in fields.

Canada: Record-setting summer rain storms in Saskatchewan kept prairie farmers from planting 10 million acres of wheat.

Mexico: An unusual deep winter freeze, which also hit Florida and Texas, is causing shortages and high prices for vegetables and fruit.

China: Dry, cold temperatures this winter are threatening the world’s largest wheat crop. Without rain, China will have to import grain, putting even more pressure on international supplies.

(Sources: World Bank and the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)

Marketplace’s John Dimsdale contributed to this report.

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